While the graduation rate in Louisiana is low, the average time required to earn a bachelors’ degree in our fourteen universities is a high 5.7 years. This means that those students who do graduate are paying, along with the state, 42% more than the expected cost of completing a four year degree. Again LSU and Louisiana Tech have better records: 4.6 years for the time to degree or 20% less than the state average. For those who fail to earn a degree in six years—an amazing two out of three entering freshman students, given a 37% six year graduation rate—the student and the state both pay the cost of attendance, but no valuable credentials are produced. There must be in Louisiana tens of thousands of residents with significant student debt with insufficient earning capacity to pay the debt.
Large sums of state and federal money go into supporting institutions and students. In addition, students and their families use savings and borrow large sums to pay the cost of their effort to obtain a meaningful college degree. One would think that public institutions would do their very best to produce graduates who have the credentials required to earn a living and enrich society in general. That is not the case in Louisiana. Most Louisiana institutions want enrollment and institutional classification because that equates to funding and economic influence. Students that are not even close to being prepared for attendance in a four-year institution are recruited and encouraged to attend. If they borrow money and fail, they cannot take bankruptcy and it is unlikely they can pay off a sizeable loan working part time for minimum wage. Graduates tend to be mobile and those who fail tend to be locked into state boundaries.
People wonder why the legislature is unhappy with higher education. The various higher education boards have allowed our current problems to develop over the past 30 years. Instead of following the lead of the progressive states of Maryland, North Carolina and Virginia, Louisiana has spent large sums of money per postsecondary student but has failed to produce the occupational credentials needed by a strong economy.
In view of the circumstances parents should insist on knowing in advance the likelihood that a student with grades and test scores similar to those of their child will graduate in a reasonable period of time at each institution. It is not where students start but rather where they end up that count. Parents and students can get help at: www.nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator
Op Ed by James H. Wharton
Chancellor Emeritus LSU